Login/Logout

*
*  

"...the Arms Control Association [does] so much to keep the focus on the issues so important to everyone here, to hold our leaders accountable to inspire creative thinking and to press for change. So we are grateful for your leadership and for the unyielding dedication to global nuclear security."

– Lord Des Browne
Vice Chairman, Nuclear Threat Initiative
October 20, 2014
Daniel Horner

Pursuing the Prague Agenda: An Interview With White House Coordinator Gary Samore

Sections:

Body: 

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Gary Samore is White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was vice president for studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton administration, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for nonproliferation and export controls.

Arms Control Today spoke with Samore in his office April 7. Among the topics covered in the interview were the current impasse in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the modernization and expansion of nuclear weapons programs in Asia, and the U.S. approach to talks with Russia on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: It has now been two years since President Barack Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech, in which he outlined his vision for addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A central part of that vision was the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START] with Russia, which entered into force earlier this year.

But New START still leaves both sides with very substantial numbers of nuclear weapons. The president has declared his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear reductions involving deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical warheads, and national security adviser Tom Donilon recently said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round.”

What factors will help determine how much further each side is prepared to trim its remaining arsenals? What types of verification, transparency, and confidence-building measures would help provide the basis for further reductions?

Samore: Well, let me speak on the U.S. side because I can’t really talk about how the Russians make their decisions—but I can speculate. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions. That review is ongoing. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.

Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position. On the verification and the transparency piece, we believe that the next treaty or the next agreement should include nondeployed systems, which have never been monitored or limited under arms control agreements. We believe that tactical nuclear weapons should be included in the overall ceiling. One approach to take, which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons]. And then, both sides, given the different force structures we have, would have some freedom to mix under that total ceiling. But in order to make that kind of an approach work, you would have to have inspections that we’ve never had before, and that would include inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities.

I think you would need to have some kind of a mechanism to account for nuclear weapons that are destroyed because we have a huge backlog of nuclear weapons that are waiting to be destroyed, and the Russians will want to know how to account for those because, in theory, they could be reused. So, to me, the next treaty or agreement is going to require a very different set of verification and transparency measures, and up to now, both sides have been reluctant to agree. Frankly, the Russians are much more cautious than we are when it comes to verification, so we’re going to have to overcome serious hurdles if we’re going to get down into an agreement that gets at the nondeployed forces.

ACT: Is it accurate to say the rationale for the majority of U.S. nuclear forces is Russia’s nuclear force?

Samore: If you look at the NPR [2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report”], you’ll see the rationale for our nuclear force structure.

ACT: Does the administration foresee further U.S. nuclear reductions if Russia’s deployed nuclear force shrinks below the 1,550-warhead level allowed by New START?

Samore: As the NPR says, at this point it makes sense for there to be some parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, so we don’t rule out taking steps on our own. In the absence of a formal agreement or treaty, there may be parallel steps that both sides could take or even unilateral steps that the U.S. could take. But those are not—decisions haven’t been made yet. Right now we have the New START treaty to implement, which gives us seven years to [come] down to the levels that are identified there. Whether we do things in addition to that or that would supersede that, that would depend very much on the discussions that we have with the Russians.

ACT: During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama said, “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice...increases the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation” and pledged to “address this dangerous situation.”

The NPR report calls for the evaluation of options that could increase the president’s decision-making time regarding the use of nuclear weapons in times of crisis. News reports suggest new presidential guidance will be formulated that may address this matter.

What specific steps are under consideration that could reduce the potential risks of accident or miscalculation due to so-called prompt launch posture?

Samore: You’ll notice that in Tom Donilon’s [March 29] speech [at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], when he talks about the strategic review, he mentions that alert postures will be one of the factors that will be addressed in that review. We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.

ACT: Russian leaders continue to express concern about the more advanced U.S. missile interceptors planned for the later phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Could you update us on the status of the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense cooperation and describe the types of missile defense cooperation that these discussions might produce? For example, would it focus on joint early-warning data sharing, an agreement not to target defensive systems against the other side’s strategic offensive systems, or something else?

Samore: We’ve had very senior-level discussions recently with the Russians on missile defense cooperation including Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates’ discussions when he was in Moscow. President Obama and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev have discussed the issue in their regular phone conversations. We’re certainly engaging with the Russians at a very senior level to try to find ways to cooperate on missile defense in a way that provides assurance to them, because our missile defense system really isn’t intended to threaten their nuclear deterrent, as well as improving our capacity and their capacity to defend against emerging threats from countries like Iran.

Certainly one of the areas we’re looking at is sharing data in terms of early warning. Again that’s something that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech as an area where we think it would actually serve both sides if we could work together and where the Russians have something to bring to the table because they have radar capacity that would be useful for us in terms of defense of Europe and the United States. So that’s certainly one aspect of cooperation that we’re discussing.

ACT: When do you hope to see some kind of agreement concluded?

Samore: I would be rash to predict when an agreement will be concluded. But it’s something that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have identified as the top strategic priority right now, because we think that’s an area where there’s room for progress.

ACT: The administration has expressed interest in engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. National security adviser Donilon recently has suggested that “increas[ing] transparency on a reciprocal basis concerning the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic forces in Europe” could be a useful starting point. Could you give us more details about what you have in mind?

Samore: I think we have to recognize that there’s a disparity between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and in terms of mission. From the Russian standpoint, they have many more tactical nuclear weapons, and they claim they believe they need them to counter NATO’s conventional superiority. So one way to begin to get into a process that will lead to reductions on a reciprocal basis is to have a better understanding of both sides’ numbers, doctrine, storage facilities, and so forth, and that’s something we would be prepared to exchange with the Russians on a confidential basis. Whether the Russians are willing to go down that road, I can’t tell you; but what we have in mind is at least starting with an exchange of information as a way to try to get a better understanding of each side’s position and hopefully that would lead—as I said, we think tactical nuclear weapons could be included in the next overall agreement. But another approach would be to take parallel actions in advance of there being a new treaty or agreement, something else that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech.

ACT: Regarding the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, which is part of the ongoing NATO deterrence review, are the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe necessary for the defense of the alliance?

Samore: The primary mission or the primary value of tactical nuclear weapons is symbolic and political because whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.

ACT: Under what circumstances might NATO consider their consolidation or withdrawal?

Samore: What Tom Donilon talked about in his speech is [steps taken] on a reciprocal basis with Russian actions. That is a principle that all the NATO allies have agreed on. If Russia took reciprocal actions, we would be prepared to take actions. But there’s no agreement in NATO to take unilateral actions as concerns U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

ACT: A general question relating to all of these issues on the U.S.-Russian agenda: How would you characterize the nature of the conversations at this point? These are taking place at the cabinet level, and these are discussions. At what point do you expect that there might be more formal work occurring on any one of these or all of these issues?

Samore: If you’re talking about a formal arms control negotiation, neither side is ready to do that. We’re not prepared to do that yet because we haven’t completed our internal reviews, so we wouldn’t know what position to take. The Russians have indicated publicly that they’re not prepared to consider additional reductions until their concerns about missile defense and weapons in space and a number of other things have been addressed. At this point, I don’t anticipate we would begin formal arms control negotiations anytime soon. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to have discussions about things like verification, transparency, and so forth; that’s a precursor to having a formal arms control negotiation.

ACT: In the Prague speech, the president pledged to pursue U.S. ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. Mr. Donilon recently reaffirmed that the administration will engage with senators on that treaty.

How does the CTBT contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and do you expect ratification would lead the handful of other states that have not yet done so to reconsider the treaty?

Samore: I think the best argument we can make for the CTBT is that it serves U.S. national security interests by giving us one tool to help constrain the nuclear buildup in Asia. I do believe that if the U.S. ratified the CTBT, it’s likely that China, India, and Pakistan would all ratify the CTBT and that would create a legal and political barrier to a resumption of nuclear testing. I think the risk of a resumption of nuclear testing is greatest in Asia. Obviously, North Korea could test at any time, but among Pakistan, India, and China, those are the countries that are building up their forces, modernizing their forces, and where testing might make sense in terms of those programs. So, to the extent that we can put in place the CTBT and to the extent that that will constrain options in Asia, it will help to tamp down the one part of the world where there is a nuclear buildup taking place.

ACT: On Iran, the United States, particularly with its P5+1 partners,[1] was pursuing a dual-track strategy. We saw from the [January 21-22] meeting in Istanbul, there were no real gains, no progress made on outstanding issues. U.S. officials have said since then that the door is still open but that they’re also looking at tightening the implementation of existing sanctions. How would you characterize the P5+1 diplomatic strategy and options going forward?

Samore: You described it very well. The P5+1 and [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Lady [Catherine] Ashton have said that the door is open to a resumption [of talks]. I’ve seen no indication that the Iranians are interested and no indication that they’re prepared to come to the table with any serious intent, so we’re very much focusing on the pressure track of the dual-track strategy. We’ve continued to take actions, and you will see in coming weeks and months that, with our allies, we’ll continue to try to increase pressure on Iran in order to persuade its government that the best way to avoid those pressures is to come to the bargaining table and be serious about trying to come up with a diplomatic solution. But at this particular moment, there’s no active diplomacy.

ACT: As you are well aware, Iran has asserted that progress with the P5+1 depends on other states recognizing what it claims is its right to enrich uranium.

Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran could possibly enrich uranium at some point in the future under very strict conditions and “having responded to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.” Can you give us some sense of what those strict conditions might be and how the United States intends to ensure that Iran takes those necessary steps?

Samore: I think the key to Iran resuming its full nuclear—peaceful nuclear—activities is to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions that require them to suspend all enrichment- and [spent fuel] reprocessing-related activities and to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to address concerns about their past and present nuclear activities, especially in the area of weaponization. So, the first step, if Iran wants to restore confidence and if Iran wants to lift sanctions, is to comply with the Security Council resolutions. What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities. Up to this point, Iran has not been able to persuade anybody, frankly, that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. That’s why the Security Council continues to demand full suspension as the initial step they can take.

ACT: Turning to North Korea, recently Mr. Donilon said that, in order for the six-party talks [involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States] to resume, “North Korea first needs to engage with the South and address issues surrounding its military provocation and then take significant and irreversible steps toward the goal of denuclearization. Those steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

What steps can the United States and its partners in the region take to achieve these objectives, and what risk is there, in the meantime, that North Korea might continue to build on its nuclear and missile capabilities?

Samore: Very much like the case of Iran, we have applied pressures to North Korea, both in the form of UN Security Council resolutions and in actions we and our allies, especially South Korea and Japan, have taken to try to persuade North Korea to take the steps we consider necessary to resume a diplomatic process. I think we’ve begun to see the North Koreans, at least right now, looking for a way to resume the six-party talks. We’ll continue to do that, and as Tom Donilon said, for us it’s very important that we not go back to the old way of doing business where the North Koreans get benefits in return for just talking. What we want to see are concrete actions. As Tom said, getting the North Koreans to suspend their enrichment program is an important step.

ACT: On the fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], U.S. officials, including yourself, Clinton, and Donilon, have said that “our patience is not infinite” and that if the stalemate continues in the CD [Conference on Disarmament], the United States would seek other options. What is the United States doing now to break the deadlock in the CD? In the absence of agreement on a work program, what “other options” are you considering to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material?

Samore: We’re continuing in the CD as we have since President Obama’s Prague speech to argue that we’re prepared to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT. In fact, all countries at the CD agreed to such a work plan. Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block a consensus on carrying out that work plan, and at this point, it appears unlikely to me that the CD will be able to come up with a compromise to begin FMCT negotiations. We’re going to start consulting. We will start consulting and have started to consult with allies and partners on whether there’s an alternative venue for the Conference on Disarmament. There are a couple of different ideas out there in play and we’re open-minded. The important thing for us is to get the negotiation started. So, we’re talking to the key countries, including countries that would be directly affected by an FMCT, as well as the technology holders.

It seems to me that is a group that we would want as much as possible to be included in such a process. Recognizing that the Pakistanis are probably not going to be willing to participate, but nonetheless if the CD is not going to be able to get started in terms of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, it’s important that we find some other way to do that, even if it means bypassing the CD, because these negotiations are not going to be quick and easy. There are a lot of pretty fundamental disagreements or differences of point of view, for example, whether existing stocks should be included and how the verification would be carried out. This is going to be a very lengthy, difficult, complicated negotiation, and the longer we wait to get started, the longer it will be before a treaty can actually be achieved.

ACT: You say such consultations should involve “technology holders.” By “technology holders,” do you mean those countries that have enrichment and reprocessing technology?

Samore: Yes. It would be good to include the Japanese, the Germans, Brazil, South Africa—countries that have developed enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes. It seems to me they have something to bring to the negotiations, and to the extent that any verification regime would have some elements that would be in addition to the existing IAEA safeguards, it would directly affect countries that have [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities that are already under safeguards.

ACT: In the meantime, Pakistan and India are the two countries, North Korea aside, that are believed to be continuing fissile material production for weapons. What steps can the United States and the international community pursue prior to a negotiation on an FMCT to address the risks posed by the continued accumulation of fissile material in South Asia?

Samore: I think it’s very unlikely that either India or Pakistan is prepared at this moment to stop its nuclear buildup. Both countries, for their own reasons, just like China for its own reasons, seem intent on further developing their capabilities. In the near term, I don’t think there is any sort of [regional] arms control arrangement, whether it’s by one of those countries or by two or three of them, that could deal with this buildup. That’s why we think the FMCT and the CTBT provide international instruments for trying to get at that concern. Certainly in the case of South Asia, it’s very important, I think, to minimize as much as possible incidents that could lead to military tension and conflict between India and Pakistan because, in my view, the risk of a conflict escalating to a nuclear war is probably higher in South Asia than in anywhere else in the world. We’ve obviously worked very hard to encourage India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue, worked very hard to try to convince the Pakistani government to take action against groups in their country that might be carrying out terrorist actions against India. So to me, the focus in the near term has to be on confidence building to reduce the risk of war. In the long term, to the extent that we can get these international instruments in place, like the CTBT and the FMCT, that’s a way to constrain the nuclear buildup.

ACT: There have been reports in recent months suggesting that Pakistan’s fissile material production rate has been accelerating. Is this the case? Has India also increased its rate of fissile material production since the approval [by the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of a policy of resuming nuclear exports to India] in 2008?

Samore: I probably can’t talk to that specifically. All I can do is repeat that there is a nuclear buildup under way in Asia: India, Pakistan, and China all are modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces. We need to figure out a way to, A, manage and, B, try to constrain that as much as we can. The best approach we’ve been able to come up with is one that emphasizes these multilateral international arms control instruments because I don’t see any purely regional approach that will be effective, and I don’t see any approach where any of those three countries would, on their own, decide to stop.

ACT: In an October 2010 presentation, you cited Pakistan as the issue that keeps you up at night. With regard to nuclear proliferation and material security, do you still have those concerns?

Samore: The Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously, and they’ve put a lot of resources into trying to make sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured. There’s no lack of recognition that this is a very important issue, and there’s no lack of incentive on the part of the Pakistani government to maintain control. What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity—and that’s obviously taking place as we look at the sectarian violence and tensions between the government and the military and so forth—I worry that, in that broader context, even the best nuclear security measures might break down. You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry. They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.

ACT: On the nuclear security summit, we’re about a year away from the second summit to be held in Seoul. What are the United States and South Korea hoping to accomplish at the summit next year? What are the biggest challenges that have to be addressed in order to meet the four-year goal that has been set out?

Samore: I think we’re on track to have a very successful summit. We’ve already been able to secure, remove, [and] eliminate very large quantities of fissile material, and we’ve still got a year to go. So, I think we’ll have an additional track record of success.

We’ve also made a very concerted effort to set up the centers of excellence and training, which is very effective because nuclear security is more than just the material. It also requires, and it is in many ways more important, that the people responsible for securing the material do their job properly. Since the [2010] Washington summit, we’ve signed agreements with a number of countries to either establish or work together in these nuclear security centers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and so forth. I think there may be some additional ones that would be announced in Seoul.

Lastly, and this is the one area where I think we have the greatest challenge, how do we translate the work that the summit participants do into the broader international community? I think there is a very good working relationship among the 47 or so countries, and we’ve all agreed on a work plan and will be able to come to Seoul and show that we’ve made very significant progress to carry out the steps in the work plan. But we need a mechanism for including the 150 or so countries that are not actually at the summit, and that means finding a greater role for the UN. I think Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very interested in being active in this area. I think it means using other international organizations, like the IAEA, and strengthening their nuclear security assistance program.

The summit will show that there has been substantial progress among the countries that participated in the Washington meeting in terms of carrying out the work plan. The challenge for us is to find some way to include those countries that are not actually physically present at the summit because, as a practical matter, we can’t include everybody, and that’s something we’re working on.

ACT: The part about the president’s four-year goal—can you address that? Where do things stand? What are the challenges in order to complete that particular goal of the president?

Samore: We, of course, still have a ways to go before we’ve reached our four-year mark. I think there will be cases where we don’t have access [to] or even knowledge of nuclear material, for example, nuclear material in North Korea. We don’t have a cooperative relationship with the North Koreans, so we won’t be able to say from our own knowledge that that nuclear material has been secured. I think it probably has been, but I have no way to make that judgment. In some cases, we can have direct access, work directly with countries on-site, either to secure, remove, or eliminate nuclear material. In other cases, we won’t have direct access. That’s why we’re trying to work through these indirect mechanisms, like centers of excellence, where we think we can help countries to establish a good security culture and training and equipment and so forth, and then strengthen the international elements, whether it’s the UN or the IAEA or the different conventions. At the end of the four-year period, I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll be, but the Seoul summit is sort of coming up on the halfway mark, and we’ve already been able to show very substantial progress.

ACT: At the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference last year, there was an agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction-free zone. What does the United States hope to achieve through the 2012 conference? Are you looking for states in the region to take certain interim steps that would contribute to the realization of such a zone? Given the nature of the nuclear debate in the region, to what extent will the meeting focus initially on chemical and biological weapons?

Samore: Our view is that it’s important that the meeting, if it takes place in 2012, focus on the broader range of nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile [issues]. When we agreed to organize this meeting at the NPT review conference, 2012 seemed like a pretty reasonable timeline for getting something organized. Obviously, since then there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.

What we would like to do is identify a number of host countries and then see if we could get some, if not consensus, at least strong support from among the countries in the region for a host. That would be an important first step in terms of making the conference more real. But given the disagreements in the region on these issues and given the turmoil and uncertainty in the region, this whole thing is going to be a very challenging enterprise.

ACT: The P5 states[2] plan to meet in Paris later this year to discuss nuclear transparency issues and possible ways to verify additional nuclear arms reductions. What do you hope to achieve at this meeting, and do you expect similar meetings to follow?

Samore: We hope there will be similar meetings. There isn’t any basis on which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states can engage in formal arms control negotiations. There’s no political basis on which you can have a five-way nuclear arms agreement because of the disparity between the U.S. and Russia on one hand and the U.K., France, and China on the other. In place of, or in advance of, there being any kind of formal multilateral arms control process, we’re trying at least to develop some areas of understanding on verification and transparency because if the U.S. and Russia continue to reduce [their nuclear arsenals] in the long term, it would create conditions where, in theory, you could have an arms control negotiation among the five, among states that possess nuclear weapons. If you were to have such a negotiation, there would have to be some kind of verification and transparency arrangement. So these discussions, I think, are useful in that sense, recognizing that the conditions for having formal arms control negotiations among the five just don’t exist.

ACT: Just remind us about the genesis of these meetings. There was an earlier meeting in London...

Samore: It was the British that started the idea, and we were very comfortable with that. Now the French have picked up [on it], and I would hope in the future, although this hasn’t been agreed, you would see similar meetings hosted by the other countries. But we have to recognize that the other countries are very wary of being brought into an arms control process at a time when, from their standpoint, the U.S. and Russia have 10 times more nuclear weapons than they do. I don’t think any country of the five is prepared to agree to any kind of a treaty or agreement that would lock them into a position of having less weapons.

ACT: Has a date been firmly set for the meeting?

Samore: I don’t believe so; you would have to ask the French. I’m not sure there has been complete agreement on there even being a meeting. I think that’s still under discussion. We’re very comfortable with it, and we would hope that all of the others would agree to it as well.

ACT: Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t? Anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on in our questions up to this point?

Samore: The one thing I would say is that I really do think that President Obama’s approach to this range of issues is that there has to be an integrated approach, and the Prague speech was very deliberately designed so that there were four interlocking elements, and I think we’ve made very good progress on each of those. But to me, the challenge of Iran and North Korea continues to be an area that if we don’t get right, will unravel everything else we’re trying to do. I really do think that unless we’re able to check the programs in North Korea and Iran, there’s a very high likelihood that it will eventually lead to further proliferation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away, but if that happens, if we see additional nuclear powers emerge in East Asia and the Middle East, then that completely undermines everything else that we’re trying to do. So, I hope that people appreciate how important it is that we work together to convince Iran and North Korea to comply with their obligations. Otherwise, everything else that we’re doing in the other areas, I think, will probably come to naught.

ACT: That’s a wide-ranging and complex set of challenges. Thanks for giving us an overview on all of these things two years after the Prague speech.

Samore: Sure.


ENDNOTES

1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.

2. The P5 also are the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.

 

Description: 

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Country Resources:

House Panel Revises U.S. Nuclear Export Law

Daniel Horner

The House Foreign Affairs Committee last month approved a bill that would change the law governing U.S. agreements for civil nuclear cooperation by adding to the nonproliferation requirements that U.S. nuclear partners must meet.

At its April 14 session, the panel voted 34-0 to send the bill, H.R. 1280, to the House floor. As Arms Control Today went to press, no schedule had been set for a floor vote.

A Senate aide said in an April 26 interview that he “certainly” expected the Senate to produce a companion bill. “Multiple drafts” are circulating, but the Senate probably will not start moving legislation until the House has acted, he said.

The House bill had been introduced April 1 by committee chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) with several other senior members of the panel as co-sponsors. One of those was Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking member, who also introduced his own bill, H.R. 1320, which overlapped with Ros-Lehtinen’s in many respects but contained some key differences. The legislation approved by the committee was “an amendment in the nature of a substitute,” which adapted the original Ros-Lehtinen bill to include some key elements of Berman’s.

Under U.S. law—section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act—the United States must negotiate nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries before engaging in nuclear trade with them. The law lists nine nonproliferation conditions that normally are required in U.S. agreements, including comprehensive international safeguards, adequate physical security, and the U.S. right of “prior consent” to uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing of U.S.-origin nuclear material by the recipient country.

Ros-Lehtinen’s and Berman’s original bills included a provision tying eligibility for U.S. nuclear cooperation to a country’s commitment that it would not begin pursuing a domestic enrichment or reprocessing program. The committee-approved bill adopts that approach.

The bill also would change the circumstances under which cooperation agreements could enter into force without a congressional vote. Under current law, most nuclear cooperation agreements can enter into force after 90 days of so-called continuous session unless Congress enacts legislation blocking the pact. Agreements that meet the nine nonproliferation criteria can come into force this way. Those that do not meet all those conditions require a vote of approval in both chambers of Congress. The only cooperation agreement to come into force by the second route was the one with India, which Congress approved in 2008. (See ACT, October 2008.)

The House legislation retains that basic structure. However, by adding the restriction on enrichment and reprocessing, along with a number of other new conditions, it requires countries to do more to be eligible for “fast-track” approval, as Berman called it.

The two-track approach was in Berman’s bill; Ros-Lehtinen’s original bill would have required an affirmative approval vote for cooperation agreements with all countries. Among the other requirements is that each cooperating country has joined an array of international agreements, “has signed, ratified, and is fully implementing” an additional protocol to its safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, “has established and is fully implementing an effective export control system,” and “is closely cooperating with the United States to prevent state sponsors of terrorism from acquiring or developing nuclear, biological, chemical weapons” or “destabilizing numbers and types of advanced conventional weapons, including ballistic missiles.”

In her statement at the April 14 session, Ros-Lehtinen said Congress should “act now to put these new protections in place, so that cooperation between the U.S. and other countries to promote peaceful nuclear activities can grow without fear that it will be used to undermine our national security and that of the world as a whole.”

In a statement issued later that day, the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the nuclear industry in Washington, called on the House to reject the bill. The institute argued that the main effect of expanding the list of U.S. requirements would be to drive potential U.S. nuclear partners into the arms of other suppliers and therefore reduce the United States’ global influence on nuclear nonproliferation and safety. “It is clear that if the United States makes renunciation of enrichment and reprocessing rights a prerequisite for trade, the outcome will be few, if any, new Section 123 agreements,” the statement said.

It warned that the bill “threatens thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in exports by U.S. companies.”

In comments to reporters after an April 26 appearance at a Washington think tank, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said actions that would have the effect of taking the United States “out of the market” would be “unhelpful” to U.S. nonproliferation objectives. He said the administration was “taking a very methodical look” at the House legislation.

Setting a Standard

Part of the impetus for the legislation came from the U.S. nuclear agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a debate over whether it is possible or advisable to replicate key provisions of that agreement in other U.S. nuclear accords. In that pact, which was concluded in 2009, the UAE commits itself to refrain from pursuing enrichment or reprocessing. (See ACT, June 2009.) Pursuing such programs would be grounds for the United States to halt nuclear cooperation with the UAE, an unprecedented provision in U.S. cooperation agreements.

A Department of State spokesman last year referred to the UAE agreement as the “gold standard,” but the Obama administration has been divided over the question of how to apply the UAE model to other countries. (See ACT, October 2010.) One particular piece of that question is whether to apply it to countries outside the Middle East.

One country affected by the debate is Vietnam. In March 29 remarks at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference, Richard Stratford, the director of the State Department’s Office of Nuclear Energy, Safety and Security, said the United States has signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam and has “given them a text of a 123 [agreement].” However, he said, “that discussion is on hold for the moment because…there is an issue as to whether we should require the gold standard in all future” 123 agreements.

With regard to another much-discussed potential 123 agreement, Stratford took issue with press accounts saying that Jordan would not agree to the same terms that the UAE did. “I wouldn’t count on that,” he said. Stratford said the two sides were “very, very close to an agreement that both of us like.” He noted that, with the current turmoil in the Middle East, the Jordanian government “had other issues on its mind.” However, he said, if the Jordanians “are prepared to engage at some point in the future, I think we will come to conclusion, and I think that the Congress will like the result. But let’s see what happens.”

Accounts of the negotiations vary on what the specific terms of the deal might be, but the general idea seems to be that Jordan would not pursue enrichment or reprocessing for some specified period of time and that the two sides would revisit the issue at the end of that period.

In an April 19 interview, a House aide who follows nonproliferation issues closely said the cooperation agreement with Jordan would not have to use “the actual words” of the UAE agreement as long as the effect is the same. “There are many paths to enlightenment,” he said.

One result of the House legislation may be that the administration presses harder for strong nonproliferation conditions in ongoing talks, the staffer said.

Multiple Suppliers

In an April 22 interview, a nuclear industry source said a Jordanian decision to accept U.S. conditions similar to those in the UAE agreement might have limited significance because Jordan has indicated it is not seriously considering the United States as a nuclear supplier. If the United States is not the supplier, it does not have the authority to demand the return of nuclear goods exported to Jordan if the country reverses its decision, the source said.

For many countries, the source said, signing a cooperation agreement with the United States nowadays is “for cachet or convenience, but not for commerce.” During the 1970s, the time of the last major revision of U.S. nuclear export law, the United States held a much more dominant place among suppliers, the source said. With the current diversity of suppliers, the unilateral restrictions of the House legislation represent “a very misconceived approach,” the source said.

The legislation requires a “report on comparability of nonproliferation conditions by foreign nuclear suppliers,” but does not specify action that Congress should take in response to the report. The “implied purpose” of the report is to exert some pressure on non-U.S. suppliers to upgrade their nonproliferation requirements to be more consistent with the ones the bill would establish, the Democratic staffer said.

In his statement at the April 14 committee session, Berman urged the Obama administration “to use all its influence to convince the other nuclear supplier states to adopt the same nonproliferation and security conditions in their agreements that we observe in ours, especially when those same suppliers are seeking nuclear business in the United States.”

 

A House committee has approved a bill that would create new nonproliferation requirements for U.S. nuclear trade partners. A key goal of the bill is to discourage new uranium-enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing programs.

 

Pursuing the Prague Agenda: An Interview With White House Coordinator Gary Samore

Interviewed by Peter Crail, Daniel Horner, and Daryl G. Kimball

Gary Samore is White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction terrorism. Before joining the Obama administration in 2009, he was vice president for studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. During the Clinton administration, he served as special assistant to the president and senior director for nonproliferation and export controls.

Arms Control Today spoke with Samore in his office April 7. Among the topics covered in the interview were the current impasse in talks with Iran on its nuclear program, the modernization and expansion of nuclear weapons programs in Asia, and the U.S. approach to talks with Russia on missile defense and tactical nuclear weapons.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: It has now been two years since President Barack Obama’s April 2009 Prague speech, in which he outlined his vision for addressing the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. A central part of that vision was the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [New START] with Russia, which entered into force earlier this year.

But New START still leaves both sides with very substantial numbers of nuclear weapons. The president has declared his intention to seek further bilateral nuclear reductions involving deployed and nondeployed, strategic and tactical warheads, and national security adviser Tom Donilon recently said, “We are ready to begin discussions soon with Russia on transparency and confidence-building measures that could provide the basis for creative verification measures in the next round.”

What factors will help determine how much further each side is prepared to trim its remaining arsenals? What types of verification, transparency, and confidence-building measures would help provide the basis for further reductions?

Samore: Well, let me speak on the U.S. side because I can’t really talk about how the Russians make their decisions—but I can speculate. As far as we’re concerned, we’ll need to do a strategic review of what our force requirements are and then, based on that, the president will have options available for additional reductions. That review is ongoing. It’s likely to take quite a bit of time because we’ve reached the level in our forces where further reductions will raise questions about whether we retain the triad or whether we go to a system that only is a dyad. Those are important considerations. Reductions below the level that we have now are going to require some more fundamental questions about force structure.

Once we have that review in place, then we’ll be able to actually start a real negotiation with the Russians in terms of providing them with a position. On the verification and the transparency piece, we believe that the next treaty or the next agreement should include nondeployed systems, which have never been monitored or limited under arms control agreements. We believe that tactical nuclear weapons should be included in the overall ceiling. One approach to take, which is our inclination at this point, is to have a single ceiling that would include both deployed and nondeployed, strategic and nonstrategic [weapons]. And then, both sides, given the different force structures we have, would have some freedom to mix under that total ceiling. But in order to make that kind of an approach work, you would have to have inspections that we’ve never had before, and that would include inspections of nuclear weapons storage facilities.

I think you would need to have some kind of a mechanism to account for nuclear weapons that are destroyed because we have a huge backlog of nuclear weapons that are waiting to be destroyed, and the Russians will want to know how to account for those because, in theory, they could be reused. So, to me, the next treaty or agreement is going to require a very different set of verification and transparency measures, and up to now, both sides have been reluctant to agree. Frankly, the Russians are much more cautious than we are when it comes to verification, so we’re going to have to overcome serious hurdles if we’re going to get down into an agreement that gets at the nondeployed forces.

ACT: Is it accurate to say the rationale for the majority of U.S. nuclear forces is Russia’s nuclear force?

Samore: If you look at the NPR [2010 “Nuclear Posture Review Report”], you’ll see the rationale for our nuclear force structure.

ACT: Does the administration foresee further U.S. nuclear reductions if Russia’s deployed nuclear force shrinks below the 1,550-warhead level allowed by New START?

Samore: As the NPR says, at this point it makes sense for there to be some parity between U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, so we don’t rule out taking steps on our own. In the absence of a formal agreement or treaty, there may be parallel steps that both sides could take or even unilateral steps that the U.S. could take. But those are not—decisions haven’t been made yet. Right now we have the New START treaty to implement, which gives us seven years to [come] down to the levels that are identified there. Whether we do things in addition to that or that would supersede that, that would depend very much on the discussions that we have with the Russians.

ACT: During the 2008 campaign, then-Senator Obama said, “Keeping nuclear weapons ready to launch on a moment’s notice...increases the risk of catastrophic accidents or miscalculation” and pledged to “address this dangerous situation.”

The NPR report calls for the evaluation of options that could increase the president’s decision-making time regarding the use of nuclear weapons in times of crisis. News reports suggest new presidential guidance will be formulated that may address this matter.

What specific steps are under consideration that could reduce the potential risks of accident or miscalculation due to so-called prompt launch posture?

Samore: You’ll notice that in Tom Donilon’s [March 29] speech [at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace], when he talks about the strategic review, he mentions that alert postures will be one of the factors that will be addressed in that review. We’re expecting that options will be presented to the president that will look at the implications of changing the alert status and postures and what impact that would have on force size and structure.

ACT: Russian leaders continue to express concern about the more advanced U.S. missile interceptors planned for the later phase of the European Phased Adaptive Approach.

Could you update us on the status of the ongoing U.S.-Russian talks on missile defense cooperation and describe the types of missile defense cooperation that these discussions might produce? For example, would it focus on joint early-warning data sharing, an agreement not to target defensive systems against the other side’s strategic offensive systems, or something else?

Samore: We’ve had very senior-level discussions recently with the Russians on missile defense cooperation including Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates’ discussions when he was in Moscow. President Obama and [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev have discussed the issue in their regular phone conversations. We’re certainly engaging with the Russians at a very senior level to try to find ways to cooperate on missile defense in a way that provides assurance to them, because our missile defense system really isn’t intended to threaten their nuclear deterrent, as well as improving our capacity and their capacity to defend against emerging threats from countries like Iran.

Certainly one of the areas we’re looking at is sharing data in terms of early warning. Again that’s something that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech as an area where we think it would actually serve both sides if we could work together and where the Russians have something to bring to the table because they have radar capacity that would be useful for us in terms of defense of Europe and the United States. So that’s certainly one aspect of cooperation that we’re discussing.

ACT: When do you hope to see some kind of agreement concluded?

Samore: I would be rash to predict when an agreement will be concluded. But it’s something that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have identified as the top strategic priority right now, because we think that’s an area where there’s room for progress.

ACT: The administration has expressed interest in engaging Russia in talks on tactical nuclear weapons. National security adviser Donilon recently has suggested that “increas[ing] transparency on a reciprocal basis concerning the numbers, locations, and types of nonstrategic forces in Europe” could be a useful starting point. Could you give us more details about what you have in mind?

Samore: I think we have to recognize that there’s a disparity between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to tactical nuclear weapons in terms of numbers and in terms of mission. From the Russian standpoint, they have many more tactical nuclear weapons, and they claim they believe they need them to counter NATO’s conventional superiority. So one way to begin to get into a process that will lead to reductions on a reciprocal basis is to have a better understanding of both sides’ numbers, doctrine, storage facilities, and so forth, and that’s something we would be prepared to exchange with the Russians on a confidential basis. Whether the Russians are willing to go down that road, I can’t tell you; but what we have in mind is at least starting with an exchange of information as a way to try to get a better understanding of each side’s position and hopefully that would lead—as I said, we think tactical nuclear weapons could be included in the next overall agreement. But another approach would be to take parallel actions in advance of there being a new treaty or agreement, something else that Tom Donilon mentioned in his speech.

ACT: Regarding the remaining U.S. tactical nuclear stockpile in Europe, which is part of the ongoing NATO deterrence review, are the remaining forward-deployed tactical nuclear weapons in Europe necessary for the defense of the alliance?

Samore: The primary mission or the primary value of tactical nuclear weapons is symbolic and political because whatever military mission they serve could of course also be accomplished through the use of systems that are not tactical systems based in Europe.

ACT: Under what circumstances might NATO consider their consolidation or withdrawal?

Samore: What Tom Donilon talked about in his speech is [steps taken] on a reciprocal basis with Russian actions. That is a principle that all the NATO allies have agreed on. If Russia took reciprocal actions, we would be prepared to take actions. But there’s no agreement in NATO to take unilateral actions as concerns U.S. tactical nuclear weapons.

ACT: A general question relating to all of these issues on the U.S.-Russian agenda: How would you characterize the nature of the conversations at this point? These are taking place at the cabinet level, and these are discussions. At what point do you expect that there might be more formal work occurring on any one of these or all of these issues?

Samore: If you’re talking about a formal arms control negotiation, neither side is ready to do that. We’re not prepared to do that yet because we haven’t completed our internal reviews, so we wouldn’t know what position to take. The Russians have indicated publicly that they’re not prepared to consider additional reductions until their concerns about missile defense and weapons in space and a number of other things have been addressed. At this point, I don’t anticipate we would begin formal arms control negotiations anytime soon. That’s why we’re emphasizing the need to have discussions about things like verification, transparency, and so forth; that’s a precursor to having a formal arms control negotiation.

ACT: In the Prague speech, the president pledged to pursue U.S. ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty [CTBT]. Mr. Donilon recently reaffirmed that the administration will engage with senators on that treaty.

How does the CTBT contribute to U.S. nonproliferation efforts, and do you expect ratification would lead the handful of other states that have not yet done so to reconsider the treaty?

Samore: I think the best argument we can make for the CTBT is that it serves U.S. national security interests by giving us one tool to help constrain the nuclear buildup in Asia. I do believe that if the U.S. ratified the CTBT, it’s likely that China, India, and Pakistan would all ratify the CTBT and that would create a legal and political barrier to a resumption of nuclear testing. I think the risk of a resumption of nuclear testing is greatest in Asia. Obviously, North Korea could test at any time, but among Pakistan, India, and China, those are the countries that are building up their forces, modernizing their forces, and where testing might make sense in terms of those programs. So, to the extent that we can put in place the CTBT and to the extent that that will constrain options in Asia, it will help to tamp down the one part of the world where there is a nuclear buildup taking place.

ACT: On Iran, the United States, particularly with its P5+1 partners,[1] was pursuing a dual-track strategy. We saw from the [January 21-22] meeting in Istanbul, there were no real gains, no progress made on outstanding issues. U.S. officials have said since then that the door is still open but that they’re also looking at tightening the implementation of existing sanctions. How would you characterize the P5+1 diplomatic strategy and options going forward?

Samore: You described it very well. The P5+1 and [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy] Lady [Catherine] Ashton have said that the door is open to a resumption [of talks]. I’ve seen no indication that the Iranians are interested and no indication that they’re prepared to come to the table with any serious intent, so we’re very much focusing on the pressure track of the dual-track strategy. We’ve continued to take actions, and you will see in coming weeks and months that, with our allies, we’ll continue to try to increase pressure on Iran in order to persuade its government that the best way to avoid those pressures is to come to the bargaining table and be serious about trying to come up with a diplomatic solution. But at this particular moment, there’s no active diplomacy.

ACT: As you are well aware, Iran has asserted that progress with the P5+1 depends on other states recognizing what it claims is its right to enrich uranium.

Secretary [of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran could possibly enrich uranium at some point in the future under very strict conditions and “having responded to the international community’s concerns and irreversibly shut down its nuclear weapons program.” Can you give us some sense of what those strict conditions might be and how the United States intends to ensure that Iran takes those necessary steps?

Samore: I think the key to Iran resuming its full nuclear—peaceful nuclear—activities is to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions that require them to suspend all enrichment- and [spent fuel] reprocessing-related activities and to fully cooperate with the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] to address concerns about their past and present nuclear activities, especially in the area of weaponization. So, the first step, if Iran wants to restore confidence and if Iran wants to lift sanctions, is to comply with the Security Council resolutions. What Secretary Clinton said has made explicit what has always been implicit in our policy, going back to the Bush administration, that if Iran were to satisfy the UN Security Council that its nuclear intentions were peaceful, then we would have no objection to Iran engaging in the full suite of peaceful nuclear activities. Up to this point, Iran has not been able to persuade anybody, frankly, that its nuclear intentions are peaceful. That’s why the Security Council continues to demand full suspension as the initial step they can take.

ACT: Turning to North Korea, recently Mr. Donilon said that, in order for the six-party talks [involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States] to resume, “North Korea first needs to engage with the South and address issues surrounding its military provocation and then take significant and irreversible steps toward the goal of denuclearization. Those steps must include monitored suspension of their newly declared uranium-enrichment program.”

What steps can the United States and its partners in the region take to achieve these objectives, and what risk is there, in the meantime, that North Korea might continue to build on its nuclear and missile capabilities?

Samore: Very much like the case of Iran, we have applied pressures to North Korea, both in the form of UN Security Council resolutions and in actions we and our allies, especially South Korea and Japan, have taken to try to persuade North Korea to take the steps we consider necessary to resume a diplomatic process. I think we’ve begun to see the North Koreans, at least right now, looking for a way to resume the six-party talks. We’ll continue to do that, and as Tom Donilon said, for us it’s very important that we not go back to the old way of doing business where the North Koreans get benefits in return for just talking. What we want to see are concrete actions. As Tom said, getting the North Koreans to suspend their enrichment program is an important step.

ACT: On the fissile material cutoff treaty [FMCT], U.S. officials, including yourself, Clinton, and Donilon, have said that “our patience is not infinite” and that if the stalemate continues in the CD [Conference on Disarmament], the United States would seek other options. What is the United States doing now to break the deadlock in the CD? In the absence of agreement on a work program, what “other options” are you considering to halt the further production of nuclear bomb material?

Samore: We’re continuing in the CD as we have since President Obama’s Prague speech to argue that we’re prepared to begin negotiations on a verifiable FMCT. In fact, all countries at the CD agreed to such a work plan. Unfortunately, Pakistan continues to block a consensus on carrying out that work plan, and at this point, it appears unlikely to me that the CD will be able to come up with a compromise to begin FMCT negotiations. We’re going to start consulting. We will start consulting and have started to consult with allies and partners on whether there’s an alternative venue for the Conference on Disarmament. There are a couple of different ideas out there in play and we’re open-minded. The important thing for us is to get the negotiation started. So, we’re talking to the key countries, including countries that would be directly affected by an FMCT, as well as the technology holders.

It seems to me that is a group that we would want as much as possible to be included in such a process. Recognizing that the Pakistanis are probably not going to be willing to participate, but nonetheless if the CD is not going to be able to get started in terms of negotiating a fissile material cutoff treaty, it’s important that we find some other way to do that, even if it means bypassing the CD, because these negotiations are not going to be quick and easy. There are a lot of pretty fundamental disagreements or differences of point of view, for example, whether existing stocks should be included and how the verification would be carried out. This is going to be a very lengthy, difficult, complicated negotiation, and the longer we wait to get started, the longer it will be before a treaty can actually be achieved.

ACT: You say such consultations should involve “technology holders.” By “technology holders,” do you mean those countries that have enrichment and reprocessing technology?

Samore: Yes. It would be good to include the Japanese, the Germans, Brazil, South Africa—countries that have developed enrichment and reprocessing for peaceful purposes. It seems to me they have something to bring to the negotiations, and to the extent that any verification regime would have some elements that would be in addition to the existing IAEA safeguards, it would directly affect countries that have [enrichment and reprocessing] facilities that are already under safeguards.

ACT: In the meantime, Pakistan and India are the two countries, North Korea aside, that are believed to be continuing fissile material production for weapons. What steps can the United States and the international community pursue prior to a negotiation on an FMCT to address the risks posed by the continued accumulation of fissile material in South Asia?

Samore: I think it’s very unlikely that either India or Pakistan is prepared at this moment to stop its nuclear buildup. Both countries, for their own reasons, just like China for its own reasons, seem intent on further developing their capabilities. In the near term, I don’t think there is any sort of [regional] arms control arrangement, whether it’s by one of those countries or by two or three of them, that could deal with this buildup. That’s why we think the FMCT and the CTBT provide international instruments for trying to get at that concern. Certainly in the case of South Asia, it’s very important, I think, to minimize as much as possible incidents that could lead to military tension and conflict between India and Pakistan because, in my view, the risk of a conflict escalating to a nuclear war is probably higher in South Asia than in anywhere else in the world. We’ve obviously worked very hard to encourage India and Pakistan to resume their composite dialogue, worked very hard to try to convince the Pakistani government to take action against groups in their country that might be carrying out terrorist actions against India. So to me, the focus in the near term has to be on confidence building to reduce the risk of war. In the long term, to the extent that we can get these international instruments in place, like the CTBT and the FMCT, that’s a way to constrain the nuclear buildup.

ACT: There have been reports in recent months suggesting that Pakistan’s fissile material production rate has been accelerating. Is this the case? Has India also increased its rate of fissile material production since the approval [by the United States and the Nuclear Suppliers Group of a policy of resuming nuclear exports to India] in 2008?

Samore: I probably can’t talk to that specifically. All I can do is repeat that there is a nuclear buildup under way in Asia: India, Pakistan, and China all are modernizing and expanding their nuclear forces. We need to figure out a way to, A, manage and, B, try to constrain that as much as we can. The best approach we’ve been able to come up with is one that emphasizes these multilateral international arms control instruments because I don’t see any purely regional approach that will be effective, and I don’t see any approach where any of those three countries would, on their own, decide to stop.

ACT: In an October 2010 presentation, you cited Pakistan as the issue that keeps you up at night. With regard to nuclear proliferation and material security, do you still have those concerns?

Samore: The Pakistani government takes the nuclear security threat very seriously, and they’ve put a lot of resources into trying to make sure that their nuclear facilities and materials and weapons are well secured. There’s no lack of recognition that this is a very important issue, and there’s no lack of incentive on the part of the Pakistani government to maintain control. What I worry about is that, in the context of broader tensions and problems within Pakistani society and polity—and that’s obviously taking place as we look at the sectarian violence and tensions between the government and the military and so forth—I worry that, in that broader context, even the best nuclear security measures might break down. You’re dealing with a country that is under tremendous stress internally and externally, and that’s what makes me worry. They have good programs in place; the question is whether those good programs work in the context where these broader tensions and conflicts are present.

ACT: On the nuclear security summit, we’re about a year away from the second summit to be held in Seoul. What are the United States and South Korea hoping to accomplish at the summit next year? What are the biggest challenges that have to be addressed in order to meet the four-year goal that has been set out?

Samore: I think we’re on track to have a very successful summit. We’ve already been able to secure, remove, [and] eliminate very large quantities of fissile material, and we’ve still got a year to go. So, I think we’ll have an additional track record of success.

We’ve also made a very concerted effort to set up the centers of excellence and training, which is very effective because nuclear security is more than just the material. It also requires, and it is in many ways more important, that the people responsible for securing the material do their job properly. Since the [2010] Washington summit, we’ve signed agreements with a number of countries to either establish or work together in these nuclear security centers, including China, India, Japan, South Korea, and so forth. I think there may be some additional ones that would be announced in Seoul.

Lastly, and this is the one area where I think we have the greatest challenge, how do we translate the work that the summit participants do into the broader international community? I think there is a very good working relationship among the 47 or so countries, and we’ve all agreed on a work plan and will be able to come to Seoul and show that we’ve made very significant progress to carry out the steps in the work plan. But we need a mechanism for including the 150 or so countries that are not actually at the summit, and that means finding a greater role for the UN. I think Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is very interested in being active in this area. I think it means using other international organizations, like the IAEA, and strengthening their nuclear security assistance program.

The summit will show that there has been substantial progress among the countries that participated in the Washington meeting in terms of carrying out the work plan. The challenge for us is to find some way to include those countries that are not actually physically present at the summit because, as a practical matter, we can’t include everybody, and that’s something we’re working on.

ACT: The part about the president’s four-year goal—can you address that? Where do things stand? What are the challenges in order to complete that particular goal of the president?

Samore: We, of course, still have a ways to go before we’ve reached our four-year mark. I think there will be cases where we don’t have access [to] or even knowledge of nuclear material, for example, nuclear material in North Korea. We don’t have a cooperative relationship with the North Koreans, so we won’t be able to say from our own knowledge that that nuclear material has been secured. I think it probably has been, but I have no way to make that judgment. In some cases, we can have direct access, work directly with countries on-site, either to secure, remove, or eliminate nuclear material. In other cases, we won’t have direct access. That’s why we’re trying to work through these indirect mechanisms, like centers of excellence, where we think we can help countries to establish a good security culture and training and equipment and so forth, and then strengthen the international elements, whether it’s the UN or the IAEA or the different conventions. At the end of the four-year period, I can’t tell you exactly where we’ll be, but the Seoul summit is sort of coming up on the halfway mark, and we’ve already been able to show very substantial progress.

ACT: At the NPT [nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] review conference last year, there was an agreement to hold a conference on a Middle East weapons of mass destruction-free zone. What does the United States hope to achieve through the 2012 conference? Are you looking for states in the region to take certain interim steps that would contribute to the realization of such a zone? Given the nature of the nuclear debate in the region, to what extent will the meeting focus initially on chemical and biological weapons?

Samore: Our view is that it’s important that the meeting, if it takes place in 2012, focus on the broader range of nuclear, chemical, biological, and ballistic missile [issues]. When we agreed to organize this meeting at the NPT review conference, 2012 seemed like a pretty reasonable timeline for getting something organized. Obviously, since then there have been some extraordinarily dramatic changes in the region; and whether or not we can still make that 2012 meeting is, I think, much less clear. We have to continue to make an effort.

What we would like to do is identify a number of host countries and then see if we could get some, if not consensus, at least strong support from among the countries in the region for a host. That would be an important first step in terms of making the conference more real. But given the disagreements in the region on these issues and given the turmoil and uncertainty in the region, this whole thing is going to be a very challenging enterprise.

ACT: The P5 states[2] plan to meet in Paris later this year to discuss nuclear transparency issues and possible ways to verify additional nuclear arms reductions. What do you hope to achieve at this meeting, and do you expect similar meetings to follow?

Samore: We hope there will be similar meetings. There isn’t any basis on which the five recognized nuclear-weapon states can engage in formal arms control negotiations. There’s no political basis on which you can have a five-way nuclear arms agreement because of the disparity between the U.S. and Russia on one hand and the U.K., France, and China on the other. In place of, or in advance of, there being any kind of formal multilateral arms control process, we’re trying at least to develop some areas of understanding on verification and transparency because if the U.S. and Russia continue to reduce [their nuclear arsenals] in the long term, it would create conditions where, in theory, you could have an arms control negotiation among the five, among states that possess nuclear weapons. If you were to have such a negotiation, there would have to be some kind of verification and transparency arrangement. So these discussions, I think, are useful in that sense, recognizing that the conditions for having formal arms control negotiations among the five just don’t exist.

ACT: Just remind us about the genesis of these meetings. There was an earlier meeting in London...

Samore: It was the British that started the idea, and we were very comfortable with that. Now the French have picked up [on it], and I would hope in the future, although this hasn’t been agreed, you would see similar meetings hosted by the other countries. But we have to recognize that the other countries are very wary of being brought into an arms control process at a time when, from their standpoint, the U.S. and Russia have 10 times more nuclear weapons than they do. I don’t think any country of the five is prepared to agree to any kind of a treaty or agreement that would lock them into a position of having less weapons.

ACT: Has a date been firmly set for the meeting?

Samore: I don’t believe so; you would have to ask the French. I’m not sure there has been complete agreement on there even being a meeting. I think that’s still under discussion. We’re very comfortable with it, and we would hope that all of the others would agree to it as well.

ACT: Is there anything we should have asked that we didn’t? Anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on in our questions up to this point?

Samore: The one thing I would say is that I really do think that President Obama’s approach to this range of issues is that there has to be an integrated approach, and the Prague speech was very deliberately designed so that there were four interlocking elements, and I think we’ve made very good progress on each of those. But to me, the challenge of Iran and North Korea continues to be an area that if we don’t get right, will unravel everything else we’re trying to do. I really do think that unless we’re able to check the programs in North Korea and Iran, there’s a very high likelihood that it will eventually lead to further proliferation. I’m not saying it’s going to happen right away, but if that happens, if we see additional nuclear powers emerge in East Asia and the Middle East, then that completely undermines everything else that we’re trying to do. So, I hope that people appreciate how important it is that we work together to convince Iran and North Korea to comply with their obligations. Otherwise, everything else that we’re doing in the other areas, I think, will probably come to naught.

ACT: That’s a wide-ranging and complex set of challenges. Thanks for giving us an overview on all of these things two years after the Prague speech.

Samore: Sure.


ENDNOTES

1. P5+1 refers to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—plus Germany.

2. The P5 also are the five countries recognized as nuclear-weapon states under the NPT.

 

The White House’s top arms control and nonproliferation official discusses the prospects for future U.S.-Russian agreements on nuclear weapons and missile defense, the administration’s strategy for addressing Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear programs, the nuclear buildup in Asia, and more.

 

Pyroprocessing Is Reprocessing: U.S. Official

Daniel Horner

In what appears to be the U.S. government’s strongest public statement to date on the issue, a Department of State official said last month that the U.S. government now views pyroprocessing, a spent fuel treatment process that South Korea is developing, as a form of reprocessing with proliferation risks similar to those of other forms.

In March 29 remarks at a nuclear policy conference in Washington, Richard Stratford, the State Department official who is responsible for U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements, said the Department of Energy “states frankly and positively that pyroprocessing is reprocessing. Period. Full stop.” The Energy Department, which is the U.S. government’s main source of technical expertise on nuclear issues, “did not say that five years ago when we started down the road of cooperation on pyroprocessing,” Stratford said. “Then the product was not weapons usable.”

However, he said, electroreduction and electrorefining, the key elements of pyroprocessing, have “moved to the point that the product is dangerous from a proliferation point of view. So, for that reason, pyroprocessing is reprocessing, and that’s part of the problem.”

Previous public statements on pyroprocessing by the Bush and Obama administrations had indicated proliferation concerns about the technology, but had not been as unequivocal as Stratford’s. (See ACT, July/August 2009.)

Pyroprocessing differs from PUREX (plutonium-uranium extraction) reprocessing, which has been used in nuclear energy and weapons programs around the world, because the plutonium separated from spent fuel by pyroprocessing remains mixed with other elements. South Korean officials have argued that this difference makes pyroprocessing more proliferation resistant than traditional reprocessing.

The current U.S.-South Korean nuclear cooperation agreement, which is due to expire in 2014, gives the United States a strong say in South Korean reprocessing of U.S.-origin fuel. As part of the negotiations on the successor to that pact, South Korea is hoping to gain a freer hand in activities such as pyroprocessing.

The two countries have agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding to conduct a 10-year joint feasibility study on pyroprocessing and other options for handling spent fuel. The study is to be conducted in parallel with negotiations on other aspects of nuclear cooperation.

 

A spent fuel treatment process that South Korea is developing has proliferation risks similar to those of traditional spent fuel reprocessing, a State Department official said.

Chinese-Pakistani Reactor Deal Moves Ahead

Daniel Horner

A planned civilian nuclear deal between China and Pakistan moved a step closer to completion, as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors on March 8 approved safeguards agreements for the two power reactors that would be involved.

The units would be built at Pakistan’s Chashma site, which already houses two Chinese-built power reactors.

The deal is controversial because the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), which China joined in 2004, allow members to export nuclear goods such as reactors and fuel only to countries that accept IAEA safeguards on all their nuclear facilities. Pakistan does not apply these so-called full-scope safeguards.

When China joined the NSG, it had already built a power reactor at the Chashma site. It claimed at the time that, under the NSG’s “grandfather” provisions, it was entitled to build a second reactor, on the grounds that the second project was covered in its existing agreement with Pakistan. According to several accounts, the NSG agreed that the second reactor would be allowable under the grandfather provision but that subsequent power reactor sales would not.

The 46-member NSG is not a formal organization; its export guidelines are nonbinding.

Reiterating the position the United States has held since mid-2010 (see ACT, June 2010), Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake told reporters in Beijing March 18, “We expect China to abide by the commitments that it made when it joined the Nuclear Suppliers Group in 2004, and in particular we think the construction of new nuclear reactors such as the Chasma 3 and 4 would be inconsistent with those commitments,” according to a Department of State transcript.

“We’ve been very clear in the Nuclear Suppliers Group context about that position, but we’ve also been very clear on the need to support Pakistan’s energy development,” Blake said. “[T]here’s a lot that can be done in non-nuclear areas that help do that,” he said.

In a March 23 e-mail to Arms Control Today, another State Department official drew a distinction between the IAEA and the NSG in the context of the deal. The United States supported approval of the safeguards pact because such agreements “play the key role of providing greater assurance and transparency that civilian activities are not diverted to other purposes,” the official said. “We believe the Nuclear Suppliers Group is the appropriate venue to discuss concerns about this transfer, not the IAEA,” the official said.

Waiting for Information

According to the official, the United States has “asked China to present the scope and details of its intended nuclear cooperation with Pakistan to the NSG,” but “China has yet to provide such details.”

The NSG discussed the matter last year during its plenary meeting in New Zealand. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) In recent interviews, diplomats said it is not on the agenda for this year’s plenary meeting, which is scheduled for June in the Netherlands, but could be discussed there.

Some observers have said the United States needs to raise the issue in venues other than the NSG. State Department officials declined to say whether Washington has done so.

In a March 14 interview, a European diplomat said many countries are “uneasy” about the situation, as they do not believe the planned reactor is covered by the grandfathering agreement. As the diplomat noted, China could request an exemption from NSG guidelines to allow nuclear trade with a country that does not accept full-scope safeguards. In response to a U.S.-led initiative, the NSG granted such an exemption in 2008 for sales to India. (See ACT, October 2008.)

“We would be very interested in the Chinese arguments,” the diplomat said, adding that Beijing probably will not request an exemption.

“We are really struggling with this issue,” the diplomat said.

In a March 29 interview, a State Department official said, “Everything [the Chinese] have said would indicate that [the deal] is going forward.”

Extracting Benefits

Some current and former diplomats have begun thinking about how to salvage from the deal “an outcome that would be kind of positive,” as the European diplomat put it. For example, the diplomat said, the NSG could press for a Chinese commitment that was “more explicit” than the one in 2004 in stating that Beijing would not conduct additional trade that fell outside the NSG guidelines.

In March 29 remarks at a nuclear policy conference in Washington, John Carlson, the former director-general of the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office, said NSG members could try to convince China to insist on high standards of safety and physical protection for the reactors. Appearing on the same panel, Henk Cor van der Kwast, head of the Non-Proliferation, Disarmament, Arms Control and Export Control Policy Division in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “We don’t know how this question will go.” If the sale does take place, one possibility is a Chinese declaration making certain commitments, along the lines of the one that India made as part of the process of obtaining the exemption in 2008, he said. In a brief interview after the panel, van der Kwast said he was not suggesting that he thought China would seek an exemption for the sale to Pakistan.

The third panelist, Richard Goorevich, a senior policy adviser in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, commented, “When it comes to building nuclear reactors, it’s really not a done deal until it’s actually done.”

After the panel, he said he was not referring to a particular current obstacle. Reactor construction is a “laborious, complicated thing” and could be stalled by issues such as financing or, in Pakistan’s specific case, rebuilding from last year’s devastating floods, he said.

In his panel comments, he also said that, in the NSG, there is an “aspect of transparency with regards to each other’s nuclear cooperation,” and that is what would be discussed with China if the deal went ahead.

 

 

A planned civilian nuclear deal between China and Pakistan is moving to completion although it has prompted concerns within the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

 

Administration Budget Request for IAEA Rises

Daniel Horner

The Obama administration is requesting $85.9 million for its voluntary contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for fiscal year 2012, an increase of about $20 million from the current level.

Because Congress has not approved spending bills for most federal agencies for fiscal year 2011, much of the government has been funded by a series of so-called continuing resolutions, which generally keep spending at the previous year’s level. The current spending bill expires April 8; the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The congressionally appropriated funding for the U.S. voluntary contribution to the IAEA in fiscal year 2010 was $65.0 million. According to a Department of State budget document, the “significant increase” represented by the fiscal year 2012 request is “part of a multi-year commitment” to the IAEA.

The request for the IAEA voluntary contribution is included in the State Department’s foreign operations budget. The assessed contribution is part of the section of the budget covering State Department operations. The request for the assessed contribution to the IAEA for fiscal year 2012 is $107 million, a rise from the current level of $103 million, according to a State Department budget document.

In the request for the assessed contribution for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, there is a slight decrease from the current level to the fiscal year 2012 request, from $25.3 million to $25.1 million.

 

The Obama administration is requesting $85.9 million for its voluntary contribution to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for fiscal year 2012, an increase of about $20 million from the current level.

The Stockpile’s Steward: An Interview With NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino

Interviewed by Tom Z. Collina and Daniel Horner

Thomas D’Agostino was sworn in on August 30, 2007, as the Department of Energy’s undersecretary for nuclear security and as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency within the department. On September 3, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that D’Agostino would continue to hold those positions. From February 2006 to August 2007, he served as the NNSA’s deputy administrator for defense programs.

In December 2010, D’Agostino, Kazakhstani Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Umarov, and their international partners were chosen in an online poll as the Arms Control Association’s Arms Control Persons of the Year for completing the job of securing material containing 10 metric tons of highly enriched uranium and three metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from the BN-350 reactor in Kazakhstan.

Arms Control Today spoke with D’Agostino in his office on February 18. The interview covered NNSA weapons efforts such as plutonium pit production and warhead life extension programs, including experiments that use nuclear weapons materials without generating a nuclear explosion. On nonproliferation issues, Arms Control Today asked about the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to reduce and secure vulnerable nuclear materials at civilian sites around the world, and the disposition of surplus plutonium from the U.S. nuclear weapons program.

The interview was transcribed by Xiaodon Liang. It has been edited for clarity.

ACT: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. You have just submitted your fiscal year 2012 budget to Congress, and we would like to ask you some questions that go to the NNSA’s role in supporting U.S. efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, reducing nuclear arsenals, and maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Let’s start with the NNSA’s role in U.S. nuclear weapons policy. First, on the test ban treaty:

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] reaffirmed that “the United States will not conduct nuclear testing and will pursue ratification” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion for almost 19 years.

Last November, the administration outlined its plan to increase funding for NNSA weapons activities, totaling more than $85 billion over the next 10 years. The directors of the three nuclear weapons laboratories wrote Dec. 1 that the proposed budgets provide “adequate support to sustain the safety, security, reliability and effectiveness of America’s nuclear deterrent.”

In your opinion, is there any technical reason that the United States should not ratify the test ban treaty and forgo testing for the foreseeable future?

D’Agostino: No. In my opinion, we have a safe and secure and reliable stockpile. Every year, we go through a very detailed annual assessment process where we evaluate the condition of the stockpile. We get independent input from our laboratory directors that comes through a variety of processes both within the Department of Energy and NNSA and at the Defense Department. Both of those come through independently at the top. It’s very consistent on the policy message that you described: There’s no need to conduct underground testing.

There is continued work that has to be done, and that’s what is great about the budgets that have been submitted by the president in the past two years. They represent a very consistent view that we need to increase surveillance work because if we’re going to maintain the deterrent and get into the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, we actually have to have the data in order to ensure that we understand the condition of the stockpile as it currently exists and as we expect it will progress out into the future. Because with that [surveillance] data, we use our people and put it into our machines to understand and simulate and do subcritical experiments [which utilize high explosives and fissile materials, including plutonium, but do not generate a nuclear yield] and the like in order to ensure that we can continue to maintain the stockpile without testing.

So, I feel very strongly that we have the right plan in place. The president has submitted this plan. He’s been true to his word with respect to the 1251 report—the report that we submitted last year to Congress describing what kind of program and plan needs to happen.

[The report] shows increased investments across a variety of fronts, increased investments in work on modernization and work on the stockpile itself to make sure we extend the life of the existing stockpile. It shows increased investments in scientific work that has to happen—I mentioned subcritical experiments. It shows increased investments in surveillance activities to gather data.

Importantly, it shows investments—and this applies more broadly, not just to the warheads themselves, but in the facilities—that the nation needs in order to do nuclear security work generally. This is nuclear security work on the warheads, nuclear security work on nonproliferation, nuclear security work on nuclear counterterrorism and nuclear forensics and intelligence analysis.

All of those [areas] are pieces that we know we need in order to have a safe world out into the future. It’s a very nice wrap, frankly, between the warheads and nonproliferation activities and people. Those things come together in a very tight way with this program and budget.

ACT: The NPR pledged that “the United States will not develop new nuclear warheads” and that, regarding any decision to proceed to engineering development for warhead life extension programs [LEPs], “the Administration will give strong preference to options for refurbishment or reuse. Replacement of nuclear components would be undertaken only if critical Stockpile Management Program goals could not otherwise be met and if specifically authorized by the President and approved by Congress.”

Does the NNSA have any plans to “replace” warheads or parts in the future, that is, introduce warhead designs that are not currently in the stockpile, but are based on tested designs?

D’Agostino: The United States has a plan to extend the life of the existing stockpile. As you mentioned, the Nuclear Posture Review very clearly directs our laboratory directors to study the full range of options to make sure that we get the benefit of their technical knowledge and capability. As I think you mentioned earlier, the laboratory directors have endorsed this as an acceptable approach to move forward with taking care of the stockpile out into the future.

So, to get right to your question, we’re in the very early study phases for the two life extension systems where your question might be appropriate. One is the B61 life extension program, and the second one is the W78 life extension activities. Both of these, particularly the W78 activity, have barely just gotten off the ground.

With the B61 [program], we are in the early phases, with the study examining that full range of options well under way. I don’t have the analysis yet because we’re in what we call the “phase 1-phase 2” area of the work on the B61 life extension. When that data comes back to us, we’ll look at all of the options that are being proposed, and then we will decide whether option A, option B, or option C is the best track. If it’s option C, we’ll need to go back up. We’re not at that stage on these life extensions yet.

ACT: Okay. Do you see at this point any potential missions that could not be achieved with refurbishment or reuse?

D’Agostino: At this point, right now, I don’t have the data, so I can’t answer that question directly. The mission space is a responsibility of the Defense Department, but the president has made clear that what we’re doing right now is not adding new missions to the warheads. We’re taking care, extending the life, of the warheads that we have right now. So, the analysis is currently under way on whether replacement is the way to go, or refurbishment, or reuse.

It’s very clear, though, that the president’s direction and our direction to our laboratories is to study, make sure they have examined that full range of options. We want to give them, frankly, the benefit of doing that because we want the nation to have the safest, most secure stockpile technically possible. The decisions will get made to balance, do trade-offs. Trade-offs in cost, trade-offs in risk, trade-offs in political [terms], maybe some atmospherics that may be happening there. We’re not there yet; we’re far from that point on making those decisions.

ACT: Would future warheads with “intrinsic surety” require “replacement,” or are there other operational measures that can provide sufficient protection at lower cost? If you were to design warheads with intrinsic security, can you do that with refurbishment or reuse, or would you have to move to a replacement design?

D’Agostino: The answer is, “It depends,” frankly.

It depends on the technical details. Now we’re delving into the heart of work on the primary, and the answer will be, “It depends.” It’s not clear that you would have to use a particular approach. What’s clear is that we’re going to examine all of our approaches, because we do want to extract that benefit and that knowledge and then allow policy and programmatic decisions to get made after that.

ACT: The NNSA’s [fiscal year] 2012 budget requests [funds] to study “scaled experiments” for “improving predictive capability of performance calculations for nuclear weapon primaries.” Can you describe these experiments and explain what they are for?

D’Agostino: Certainly. Scaled experiments basically are a type of subcritical experiment. Scaled experiments involve plutonium, but like subcriticals, they’re subcritical, they’re not nuclear tests.

Subcritical experiments are done all the time in order to gather the data that we need to study how the plutonium ages and make sure that we understand the dynamic [properties of the material], how the material moves under extreme pressures and temperatures. It’s an additional set of inputs. Because the president has a commitment to maintain the stockpile without underground testing and pursue the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, our view as a technical organization is to make sure we examine all the technical approaches to get data so we can take care of the stockpile and fulfill that mandate.

An element of the resources we’re talking about here has to do with making sure and understanding, “Can a more robust set of activities in scaled experiments provide data that allows us in effect to ensure that we don’t have to conduct an underground test?” We don’t know the answer to that question. That’s why the JASONs [group of senior science and defense consultants] are looking at it. That’s why we’re examining it in depth within the administration. That’s why we’ve got some money set aside to go answer that question.

Before we decide to pursue a path of additional scaled experiments, we want to make sure we understand the benefit that it provides versus the costs, the financial costs, associated with doing that. It’s going to take us a few years to get to that point because this is the heart of the matter, frankly. The data from the primaries is the key point in being able to take care of the stockpile.

ACT: Would a new facility be necessary? And if so, how much might it cost?

D’Agostino: We don’t know if a new facility is necessary. We don’t know if a new scaled-experiments program is necessary, and therefore we don’t know what it would cost.

ACT: Okay, and just a clarifying question: scaled experiments have or have not been done up to this point?

D’Agostino: Scaled experiments are done by, have been done by states that have stockpiles of warheads.

ACT: But not in the United States?

D’Agostino: In the United States, we don’t have a very—no, we haven’t done scaled experiments in a long time.

ACT: Los Alamos National Laboratory currently has a relatively limited capacity to produce plutonium parts, or pits, for warheads. The planned future capacity is 50 to 80 pits per year.

Given that New START [the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] will reduce the deployed U.S. arsenal by hundreds of warheads, why do you believe this production capacity is still necessary?

D’Agostino: To be clear: pit production actually does not happen in the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility. Just to be clear on that. Pit production happens in one of our facilities within the technical area [at Los Alamos] that does this work.

Fifty to 80 pits per year is the throughput rate we expect that we might possibly need out into the future. [That] doesn’t necessarily mean we need it now, but we might possibly need it in order to take care of the stockpile, given the size of the stockpile.

The reductions of the New START treaty were factored into that particular analysis. So if you think about the need to conduct a life extension on a warhead and any modifications you might have to make to an existing pit in order to extend its life, and how long our life extensions would typically take—our life extension programs typically take 10 years or so on the average, because we do have a number of different warhead types in our stockpile—we believe that 50 to 80 provides a reasonable balance.

The last thing we want to do, because this is a very expensive facility, is—we don’t want to build a larger facility than we need. But we also need to be able to respond to a technical problem in the stockpile should we have to reconstitute a whole warhead type within a reasonable period of time, or respond to a geopolitical change that would require us to ramp up. These are all political decisions, of course, and technical decisions.

The nexus is that crossover between politics and technical, that sphere we’re operating in. But 50 to 80 is considered a reasonable throughput rate. It’s very small; it’s nothing at all like we were [doing] during the Cold War. It’s much smaller than the Cold War.

In fact, the point that is very important to remember on a Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility is that we’re trying to lay the groundwork for the future. Get out of two plutonium facilities and move down to one plutonium facility. [We don’t need] one at Los Alamos and one at [Lawrence] Livermore [National Laboratory]; we just want one for the nation, that’s all the nation needs. We have hundreds of thousands of [square feet of] plutonium lab space. We need 40 percent of that out into the future.

What we’re trying to do is drive efficiencies. But importantly, these investments are important in order for us to do our nuclear counterterrorism work and in order for us to do our nonproliferation work. The Chemistry and Metallurgy [Research] Replacement facility is a facility that is needed to do the analysis on the samples to make sure our stockpile is safe. It also—should there be a condition in the future where we get our hands on plutonium that’s been smuggled—allows us to do some nuclear forensics work.

ACT: In 2006 the NNSA published the results of a laboratory study that found that plutonium pits have lifetimes of at least 85 years. The NNSA [fiscal year] 2012 budget states that “a lifetime was established for a W88 primary, advancing our lifetime estimates beyond the pit lifetimes produced in 2006.”

Can you tell us what the new lifetime estimate is for the W88 pit?

D’Agostino: No. Sorry, I can’t. These [estimates] were general. If you recall, the 2006 study spoke in some generalities because there are ranges. In fact, I might add, we’re quite fortunate that we had these longer lifetimes. Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos did the detailed studies. If the lifetimes were significantly shorter, we would have been forced as a nation to accelerate our activities, and then we would have, of course, run the risk of potentially overbuilding the size of the pit production capabilities. So, longer lifetimes is good stuff.

ACT: What is the NNSA’s current opinion on how long pits last, in general?

D’Agostino: In general, we’ll stick by the data you talked about earlier.

ACT: Now we’d like to shift to the NNSA’s nonproliferation programs, particularly nuclear security and fissile materials disposition.

It has been almost two years since President Obama announced the effort to “secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” There have been a number of significant accomplishments in those two years. What are your priorities for 2011 and 2012? What can we expect to see by 2013—the end of the four-year block—and beyond that?

D’Agostino: The president has made it very clear what my priorities are. I love it when I get clear guidance. The clear guidance is to secure all the most vulnerable material in four years. And we have a plan. We are implementing that plan.

The plan, of course, needs to be resourced, and we’re resourcing that plan. The president’s budget requests for FY11 and 12 and the out-years do resource that plan. If numbers change, obviously we will look at our priorities to make sure the right thing happens given the priorities. If that means making some tough decisions, we’re ready to make those tough decisions.

ACT: What can we expect to see by 2013, four years since he made the statement? [Are there things] we should look for beyond that as well?

D’Agostino: Well, the plan that we have right now completes this effort in December of 2013. That’s the key. So we’re working to that plan. We’ve identified a scope of work to get this four-year material secured. Not just ourselves, of course; we’re doing this with the international community.

Last April at the nuclear security summit, there was a commitment that two years hence we would meet again in Seoul and see how well we’ve done. We’re tracking very closely against the commitments made by other nations on work that they would do in order to get this material secured and in some cases removed. For some of the work that they’re doing, we’re partners with them to make sure it happens. So, that is in our plan and in our budget.

It’s exciting work. What’s wonderful about this is there’s a reporting-back mechanism to the highest levels in government—to the presidents or the prime ministers—that says, “I said I was going to do this two years ago; well, how did I do?” The whole world is watching. This is great stuff.

ACT: As you said, though, there are likely to be some budget constraints. In its budget request for fiscal year 2011, the Obama administration requested an increase of more than $200 million from the fiscal year 2010 appropriation for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative. But because Congress has been funding the government with a continuing resolution [CR], spending for the first five months of fiscal year 2011 has been at the 2010 level.

What impact has that had on the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material?

D’Agostino: Because the FY11 budget is still being negotiated, we don’t know where it’s going to end up. What I will say, what works with a continuing resolution is that the continuing resolutions provide us flexibility in the executive branch to move resources to the areas of highest priority.

Will there be some impacts? There likely will be some minor impacts associated with, “Well, we’ll have to move this shipment back a few months.” Our plan was to front-load that Global Threat Reduction Initiative work to get it under way robustly in 2011 so that as schedules change, we don’t lose track and we can still hit our December 2013 target. Our plan is still to do that. We’re down at the FY10 levels, but we can reallocate resources.

I would say if we’re at a situation where we’re going through a whole year [with a continuing resolution that does not provide the requested increases], there will likely be some greater impacts. We adjust our programs on a regular basis as a result of [the uncertainty of operating under a series of short-term continuing resolutions]. Do we anticipate another weeklong CR? How does it impact our plans? As a three-month CR becomes a six-month CR, becomes a full-year CR, there are actually different plans that have to be developed in each case. With the three-month CR, well, I can hold out, but with the one-year CR, I might have to delay some things. If I knew what the future was like, it would be easy, but I don’t. So, that’s why this is hard.

ACT: You mentioned reallocating. So, you’re already looking at areas other than the nuclear security efforts where you can draw money from and reallocate it to nuclear security, is that what you were saying?

D’Agostino: That’s right. What we have been doing is looking at areas where resources aren’t being spent at the pace we expected or may be of lower priority. At this point right now, all of our programs are running on track because we typically have a slight carryover balance that we bring in from the previous year. We’re on a one-year kind of an approach. So, we’re managing just fine, but things get harder as the year goes on.

ACT: Turning to military fissile materials, you are working on the disposition of more than 30 metric tons of former U.S. weapons plutonium by building a plant at the Savannah River Site to turn it into mixed-oxide [MOX] fuel that is to be used in commercial reactors.

The MOX plant is the largest item in the nonproliferation budget; you are requesting $579 million for construction [of the MOX fuel fabrication plant and two supporting facilities] for fiscal year 2012.

Given that the United States has historically tried to discourage civilian use of plutonium and given that converting plutonium into reactor fuel is not the only option for disposition, please tell us why you see this as a major budgetary and policy priority.

D’Agostino: It’s a significant priority for a couple of reasons. One is, we’re talking about 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, probably the most dangerous stuff on earth. Using it up, putting it in a form that it can never be used for its original purpose, is a great goal. Two is that we’re going to be able to extract a significant amount of energy out of this material.

When we’ve done studies in the past, we’ve looked at immobilization, long-term storage. At the end of the day, with all of those other approaches, you still at the end of the day—after 50 years, at the end of 100 years—have this 34 metric tons of plutonium. Using the approach the nation is proceeding down right now, that material doesn’t exist in that particular form. It’s really, in my view, the ultimate swords-into-ploughshares program. It’s that conversion of that material and getting rid of that material.

The president’s plan, the plan that we have laid out right now, really focuses on the material. Securing the material at sites, detecting illicit transfers of material across borders or between geographic locations, not making more material, and getting rid of material that you don’t need. Obviously, this question you asked on mixed-oxide fuel falls into that last category and also has the added benefit of extracting some of the value out of the material that the nation put into it.

ACT: What’s the timetable for producing the MOX fuel and irradiating it in commercial reactors, especially that second piece?

D’Agostino: Well, the timetable right now is that we’re currently operating on a track to get the facility up and operating in 2016.

Now, just like very many complicated things, it’s not a light switch that flips “on” on day one. In making this many metric tons per year of material, there’s a ramp-up in its approach. What we’re doing right now, though, is focusing on project management; that’s a key element of what we want to do in order to make sure that we’re successful.

The NNSA’s fiscal year 2012 program and budget request has a significant number of large projects in it, and the focus now is going to be making sure that we deliver on those projects on time, on schedule, as committed once we hit our performance baseline.

That’s all about improving the way we do business, which is one of the three themes that I’ve mentioned in presentations in the past. The first theme is investing in our future. The second theme is implementing the president’s nuclear security agenda, the topic which we’ve talked about. The third theme is improving the way we do business. So, the focus is on getting that MOX plant together.

[On the question of when reactors will start loading MOX fuel,] there’s work we’re doing with Energy Northwest and with the TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] to reach some agreements on how we would use this fuel on what type of time period. With the Tennessee Valley Authority, we have a commitment with the NNSA to do a supplemental environmental impact statement to evaluate the use of this material in the five TVA reactors that can use it. Then the agreements will get modified, and we’ll go from there.

We expect this, in about the 2012 time frame to come to fruition, because we recognize that we need an end-stream user. With Energy Northwest, we’ve recently entered into an agreement to examine the use of this material. Typically what that involves is making the right types of components that can be irradiated so that they can be examined by the end user to make sure they’re comfortable in putting this fuel inside their reactors.

ACT: Just to be clear, they’re doing testing; you don’t have contracts with those utilities to go ahead yet. Is that correct?

D’Agostino: That’s correct. We have agreements to do the upfront work necessary before we can actually put a contract in place. Because before we put a contract in place—an agreement that I give you this, and you give me that on this type of timescale—the utilities, appropriately so, need to make sure [they know] what are they getting themselves into. They see value in taking the time and energy to examine this question, and our discussions with TVA are very promising in this area.

ACT: On the timetable, 2018, I think, is when you plan to start loading [MOX fuel] into reactors. Is that still the timetable, and does that allow time for testing of the assemblies and all the other preliminary [work] and licensing and everything that’s necessary to be ready to actually start loading commercial fuel elements into reactors of that kind?

D’Agostino: I believe so. I don’t have the exact date on the tip of my tongue. That sounds about right. It’s a period of time after, obviously, the MOX plant has to get up and running. It gives us the time to get these elements in place.

ACT: You talked about the five reactors at the TVA, that’s the two Sequoyah and three Browns Ferry [reactors], I assume. But if I recall, the two Sequoyah reactors are also backup reactors for the tritium mission. So, is there a potential juggle you’ll have to do?

D’Agostino: Those specific details will have to get handled if and when they’re needed at that particular time. That’s how I would view that.

ACT: Is there anything that we should have asked that we didn’t that you want to make clear?

D’Agostino: Well, first of all I want to thank Arms Control Today. I appreciate the honor of receiving this award [as an Arms Control Person of the Year]. I recognize it’s not because of me, frankly, it’s because of all the work of the men and women in the NNSA that work all over the world and in this country to get this work done. I think it’s actually a recognition that the NNSA is making the shift from a Cold War nuclear weapons complex to a 21st-century nuclear security enterprise, where nuclear security is the paramount watchword. Frankly, I’m very excited about it, and the people in the NNSA are as well.

ACT: I should say also that the award was voted on [by participants in an online poll], so we can’t take credit for choosing you.

Thank you.


Updated June 2, 2011: Shaw Areva MOX Services, the NNSA's prime contractor for the surplus-weapons-plutonium disposition program, has a contract with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) to explore the potential use in the Columbia reactor of MOX fuel made with the surplus weapons plutonium. The reactor is located near Richland, Washington and is operated by Energy Northwest, which is considering a paper study with PNNL that would look at certain aspects of using MOX fuel at Columbia, including licensing, operational requirements, and security. As of June 1, 2011, Energy Northwest had not signed the subcontract for the study with PNNL.

 

 

 

 

 

The head of the National Nuclear Security Administration talks about the NNSA’s nuclear weapons and nonproliferation work, covering a range of topics that includes plutonium pit production, warhead life extension programs, scaled experiments, plutonium disposition, and efforts to reduce and secure vulnerable nuclear materials at civilian sites around the world.

NNSA Nonproliferation Spending Slated to Rise

Robert Golan-Vilella and Daniel Horner

President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2012 budget request would increase funding for nonproliferation programs in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) by roughly 20 percent over current spending levels, but represents a modest decrease from the administration’s request for the same programs a year ago.

Under the proposed budget, released Feb. 14, two of the largest increases would go to the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the Fissile Materials Disposition program. The former is designed to reduce and secure vulnerable nuclear materials at civilian sites around the world; the latter focuses principally on disposition of surplus weapons-grade fissile materials in the United States. The portion of the request related to disposition activities in Russia dropped significantly from the fiscal year 2011 request.

Because Congress did not approve fiscal year 2011 funding for most U.S. government agencies before last Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2010, the federal government is now operating under a continuing resolution (CR), which will fund the government through March. With very few exceptions, the CR funds government programs at the level of their fiscal year 2010 congressional appropriations. Obama’s budget request for fiscal year 2011 had called for significant increases for a number of programs designed to improve nuclear security around the world. (See ACT, March 2010.)

The NNSA’s Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation category, which includes both the GTRI and the materials disposition program, would see its spending go from $2.13 billion to $2.55 billion. That represents an increase of 20 percent from current spending levels, but a decrease of 5.1 percent from Obama’s fiscal year 2011 request of $2.69 billion. Funding for the GTRI would follow the same pattern: after receiving $334 million in fiscal year 2010, Obama proposed to increase that to $508 million for fiscal year 2012—a 52 percent rise, but less than the $559 million that he requested last year.

The GTRI is one of the principal contributing programs to the Obama administration’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials worldwide within four years. (See ACT, May 2009.) From the program’s inception through September 2010, the GTRI removed a cumulative total of 2,852 kilograms of highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium and shut down or converted 72 HEU research reactors, according to the NNSA’s detailed “budget justification” document.

In a Feb. 14 press statement, the NNSA said that Obama’s budget request “provides the resources required to implement the President’s commitment to secure vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years.” The request’s future-year projections call for the Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation category to receive a total of $14.2 billion over the next five years, with the annual appropriation rising gradually each year to reach just over $3 billion in fiscal year 2016. Funding for the GTRI in that year would be $740 million under the administration’s projection.

One of the GTRI’s high-profile activities is its ongoing effort to remove fresh HEU from Belarus and Ukraine. These two former Soviet countries have said they will be rid of the material by the time of the nuclear security summit planned for 2012 in Seoul. (See ACT, January/February 2011.) During a Feb. 14 conference call with reporters, NNSA officials said they were confident that the budget request provides sufficient funding to meet that schedule.

Following a Feb. 15 meeting of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission, the Department of State’s press office said Ukraine had reiterated its commitment to meet that timetable and that the United States “reconfirmed its commitment to provide necessary technical and financial assistance valued at approximately $50 million by the time of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit as part of this effort.”

In a Feb. 15 e-mail to Arms Control Today following up on the conference call, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said that “all HEU material has now been removed” from 19 countries (Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Libya, the Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, and Turkey). He added that the NNSA is working with 16 other countries (Argentina, Austria, Belarus, Canada, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam) “to remove the last of their material.”

Fissile Material Disposition

As with the GTRI and the broader Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation account, the proposed budget for fissile materials disposition is significantly higher than its fiscal year 2010 appropriation, but slightly lower than Obama’s fiscal year 2011 request. From $702 million in fiscal year 2010, funding for the disposition program is slated to rise to $890 million in fiscal year 2012; the request for fiscal year 2011 was $1.03 billion.

The bulk of the program is devoted to carrying out a bilateral agreement between the United States and Russia that commits each side to dispose of at least 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. The agreement originally was signed in 2000, but the effort stalled over financial, policy, and legal disputes. During the April 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington, the two sides signed a protocol that amended and updated the accord. (See ACT, May 2010.) According to a State Department statement at the time of the protocol’s signing, the combined 68 metric tons of plutonium represents enough material to make approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.

Under the terms of the protocol, Washington and Moscow aim to begin disposition—loading reactors with fuel made with the surplus weapons plutonium—in 2018. The United States currently is constructing three facilities at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. The first is a Mixed-Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, which will fabricate plutonium oxide into MOX fuel for use in domestic reactors; the other two facilities will perform supporting roles. Savannah River is scheduled to begin producing MOX fuel in October 2016, the NNSA’s budget document said.

The administration is requesting $579 million for construction work on the three facilities for fiscal year 2012, with $385 million going to the MOX fuel-fabrication plant.

According to the NNSA budget document, that project “has had continued difficulty identifying suppliers and subcontractors with the ability and experience to fabricate and install equipment to the requirements of [the] Nuclear Quality Assurance (NQA)-1 standard for nuclear work.” This shortage “has in turn resulted in a lack of competition for the work and higher than expected bids as the inexperienced suppliers are uncertain how much effort is required to meet NQA-1 requirements,” the document said. In some cases, Shaw AREVA MOX Services, the main contractor that the Energy Department has hired to build the facility, has done some of the work itself rather than assigning it to subcontractors, the NNSA said. Another hurdle is that the contractor “is also experiencing significantly greater than expected turnover of experienced personnel due to the expansion of the U.S. commercial nuclear industry,” the NNSA said, adding that “finding experienced replacements has become difficult and expensive.”

The Obama administration’s future-year projections call for roughly $1 billion to be spent on the disposition program in each of the four years following fiscal year 2012. Approximately 48 percent of that money is scheduled to go toward constructing the new facilities.

In anticipation of last year’s signing of the disposition protocol with Russia, the fiscal year 2011 request for work on Russian disposition rose to $113 million (the fiscal year 2010 appropriation had been $1 million), but the fiscal year 2012 request is only $10.2 million. According to the NNSA budget document, the sharp drop “reflects the decision to wait until the United States and Russia have agreed on detailed milestones” for progress in the work that U.S. funds would support. During the Feb. 14 conference call, Anne Harrington, the NNSA deputy administrator for defense nuclear nonproliferation, said the agency is “not going to request [money for that work] from Congress until we know we actually have something to apply it against.”

In a Feb. 18 interview, a U.S. official said the United States had given Russia a document proposing a draft set of milestones for Russia’s consideration, but had not yet received a response. The Russian response is taking “longer than the U.S. would have hoped,” but there appears to be “no damage to Russia’s program from the delay,” he said. It “seems clear” that Russia does not see a “programmatic need” to move more rapidly, he said. “People, over time, have realized that this is not a program that’s going to rush itself forward,” he commented.

CTR to Rise, Focus on Biothreats

At the Department of Defense, funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program is slated to increase by approximately 20 percent from current spending levels, from $424 million to $508 million. Obama’s request last year called for $523 million to be spent. The CTR program is designed to secure and eliminate weapons of mass destruction and their related materials, particularly in the states of the former Soviet Union.

Within the CTR account, the lion’s share of the proposed increase would go to the Cooperative Biological Engagement program. Formerly known as Biological Threat Reduction, this program works to prevent dangerous pathogens from being used against the United States or its allies by state or nonstate actors, the CTR’s detailed budget document said. Under the 2012 budget request, this program’s funding would rise 53 percent, from $169 million in fiscal year 2010 to $260 million. At this level, the biological engagement program would consume just over half the CTR budget.

The other major programs in the CTR account would see their funding stay generally consistent with current levels, although some would decrease significantly compared to Obama’s fiscal year 2011 request. Most notable in this category is the Global Nuclear Security program, which “renames and consolidates all activities related to nuclear warhead and weapons-grade nuclear material security within selected countries,” according to the CTR’s budget document. Last year, Obama requested a 39 percent increase for this category, from $119 million in fiscal year 2010 to $164 million in fiscal year 2011. This year’s request would eliminate this proposed increase, calling for $121 million to be spent.

 

For the coming fiscal year, the Obama administration is seeking more funding for nonproliferation efforts, especially those focusing on fissile materials disposition and on securing vulnerable nuclear material around the world.

GAO: Nuclear Security Agenda Needs Details

Robert Golan-Vilella and Daniel Horner

The Obama administration’s nuclear security agenda is short on details concerning its “overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work,” the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Dec. 15. In the report, consisting of a public summary of the classified September version, the GAO also assessed the nuclear security work performed by the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and found that its progress was uneven across programs and countries.

The GAO reported that the National Security Council (NSC) has approved a document that serves as a government-wide strategy for achieving President Barack Obama’s goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. (See ACT, May 2009.) That document lays out the main actions that the U.S. government will take toward this end and defines the role of each agency involved in the effort, according to the GAO. However, the GAO said that “this interagency strategy lacks specific details concerning how the initiative will be implemented.”

According to the GAO, the “NSC does not consider the 4-year time frame for securing nuclear materials worldwide a hard and fast deadline.” NSC officials said they saw it instead as a “forcing function” to drive U.S. nuclear nonproliferation programs and mobilize greater international support on the issue of nuclear security, the report says.

The GAO recommended that the NSC lead and coordinate “the development of a comprehensive plan for implementing” Obama’s four-year initiative. That plan should identify “the specific foreign countries, sites, and facilities where materials have been determined to be poorly secured”; the agencies responsible for addressing each location; potential challenges and the steps needed to overcome them; and the time frames and costs associated with the goal. According to the report, NSC officials provided no written comments on this recommendation but said they believed development of such a plan could take years.

Mixed Progress in NNSA Programs

The report focused in detail on the contributions of the NNSA to the nuclear security initiative. The NNSA “was the only agency to have developed a formal written plan with specific details regarding how it intends to contribute to the 4-year nuclear material security goal,” the GAO said.

The NNSA received the highest marks for its Material Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) activities in Russia. Through this program, which works to conduct security upgrades at nuclear facilities, the NNSA has improved security at 110 Russian nuclear warhead and material sites, the GAO said. However, the GAO noted that the MPC&A program is due to expire on Jan. 1, 2013, and transfer full responsibility for its activities to Russia. The report argued that the NNSA would be unlikely to meet this deadline and recommended that the NNSA and Congress take steps to prepare for extending the program past 2012.

Other NNSA programs in Russia have achieved more limited success, the GAO said. The Materials Consolidation and Conversion (MCC) program was created in 1999 with the goal of moving highly enriched uranium (HEU) from 50 buildings and five sites by 2010; it “has achieved removal of all HEU from only 1 site and 25 buildings,” the report said.

Likewise, the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which includes an effort to convert or shut down Russian HEU reactors, has made little progress toward that end, the GAO said. According to the report, the GTRI plans to convert or shut down 71 HEU-fueled research reactors and related facilities in Russia by 2020. To date, Russia has shut down three HEU facilities and committed to shutting down five others, the GAO said.

Under an agreement signed Dec. 7, Russia and the United States agreed to conduct feasibility studies on the conversion of six reactors in Russia. According to the GAO report, previous estimates had said the accord would be completed “in early fiscal year 2010,” which began in October 2009.

“NNSA officials told us that any agreement to conduct these studies would not constitute an official Russian decision to convert or undertake activities toward conversion,” the GAO said. In a Dec. 30 e-mail to Arms Control Today, NNSA spokesman Damien LaVera said, “While [the Dec. 7 agreement] does not commit Russia to convert those reactors, we think this is an important step forward and a demonstration of our joint commitment to minimizing the use of HEU wherever possible.”

Beyond Russia

The GAO report cites several notable successes in GTRI efforts to remove weapons-usable material from nearly two dozen countries. Following Ukraine’s commitment at the April 2010 nuclear security summit in Washington to get rid of all of its HEU by 2012, in May the GTRI facilitated the removal of “more than a third of Ukraine’s HEU inventory” to Russia, according to the report.

The report notes the NNSA’s completion of a contract with South Africa for the return of U.S.-origin spent HEU fuel to the United States. According to LaVera, the contract, signed in August 2010, covers 5.8 kilograms of U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel. The material is scheduled to be returned to the United States in the first half of 2011, he said. That will mark the removal of all U.S.-origin HEU spent fuel from South Africa, he said.

Another U.S.-South African effort cited by the GAO concerns the production of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) from low-enriched uranium (LEU) by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa). Until now, large-scale producers of the isotope, which is used to detect diseases and study organ structure, have used HEU. However, in a Dec. 6 press release, the NNSA announced the arrival in the United States of the first shipment of LEU-based Mo-99 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use by U.S. patients. The United States has no Mo-99 production facilities. In the Dec. 30 e-mail, LaVera said Necsa and the NNSA had been working together for years on this issue and that after the April summit, the NNSA provided $25 million to support Necsa’s conversion efforts.

The GAO report also examined nuclear security cooperation with China and India, which the GAO said has been much more limited in its scope and results.

 

The Obama administration’s nuclear security agenda is short on details concerning its "overall estimated cost, time frame, and scope of planned work," the Government Accountability Office said.

 

CWC Members Debate Inspection Distribution

Daniel Horner

A debate over the 2011 budget for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was a key part of the annual members’ conference, but the distribution of inspections, rather than the amount of money, was the key issue, delegates to the Nov. 29-Dec. 3 meeting in The Hague said in interviews in recent weeks.

The discussion was over the number of inspections for different inspection categories, and in particular for so-called other chemical production facilities (OCPFs), the delegates said.

The CWC verification system is based on three “schedules,” or lists of toxic chemicals and their precursors that have been developed or manufactured in the past for military purposes. The OCPFs are multipurpose chemical-production facilities that are not monitored with the same intensity as facilities that produce agents listed in the three schedules. There are some 5,000 OCPFs around the world, far more than the number of facilities that are associated with production of agents listed on the three schedules. Many of the OCPFs are in developing countries; China and India have more than 2,000 OCPFs between them. Under current rules, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the body responsible for implementing the CWC, can inspect only a small fraction of the OCPFs each year.

In 2010 the OPCW provided funding for 125 OCPF inspections; for 2011, Western countries sought to raise the figure to 128, a European diplomat who attended the meeting said in a Dec. 20 interview. China, India, and other countries objected, participants said. The debate produced “some pretty intense discussion,” a senior official from the U.S. Department of State said in a Dec. 27 interview.

One participant cautioned against seeing the division strictly as one between developed and developing countries. “It has been rather a more complex issue which has changed over time,” the participant said.

The member states reached a compromise for the 2011 budget, under which they increased the number of OCPF inspections to 127 and decreased the number of Schedule 3 inspections by one, to 29. Schedule 3 contains toxic chemicals that have been used as chemical weapons, such as phosgene, and chemical weapons precursors that have commercial applications in large quantities.

In a Dec. 22 interview, Jorge Lomónaco, Mexico’s permanent representative to the OPCW and a former chairman of the agency’s Executive Council, said the debate has been going on for about 10 years and is “not about expenditure.” He noted that each OCPF inspection costs about $10,000; the total OPCW budget for 2011 is about $100 million.

The issue was addressed in the opening statement of Cuba on behalf of the group of CWC parties that includes the Nonaligned Movement (NAM) and China. The group referred to the current methodology for selecting OCPFs for inspection as “an interim measure” and “reiterate[d] the desirability of directing inspections towards facilities of greater relevance to the object and purpose of the Convention” based on a “hierarchy of risk.” That approach would lead to more inspections of Schedule 1, 2, and 3 facilities and fewer of the OPCFs, Lomónaco said.

In his opening statement, Lomónaco said the continuation of the dispute “could badly reflect on what a credible and successful organization the OPCW is.” He urged the parties “to solve the issue of a definitive site-selection methodology for OCPF inspections as soon as possible.”

Destruction Deadlines

Another issue that spurred debate was the language in the conference’s final report on the CWC’s 2012 deadline for Russia and the United States to finish destruction of their stockpiles of chemical weapons. Russia said last year it would not meet that deadline, which represents an extension of the original April 2007 CWC deadline. Moscow now estimates that it will complete the job by the end of 2015. (See ACT, July/August 2010.) The United States had announced in 2006 that it would not meet the 2012 deadline and has recently set 2021 as the target date. (The U.S. Congress, however, has set 2017 as the target date for completing the demilitarization of all U.S. chemical weapons stockpiles.)

The NAM-China statement expressed “grave concern” about the prospect that Russia and the United States would miss the CWC deadline. Such a lapse “endangers the credibility and integrity” of the CWC, it said. Iran, a member of the NAM, made a similar point in its opening statement, saying timely destruction of chemical weapons is the convention’s “raison d’être” and commenting, “As the saying goes, if there is a will, there is a way.” Iran pursued the issue during the meeting, participants said.

South Africa’s statement, on behalf of the Africa Group, “associate[d] itself” with the NAM-China statement, but struck a different tone in some respects. Although it expressed “concern” about the size of the stockpiles remaining to be destroyed, it “commend[ed]” the possessor states for their efforts and said, “[W]e do not currently have any grounds to believe that the difficulties that we are being forced to confront are symptoms of any bad faith or any attempt to circumvent the basic objective of the Convention (namely the elimination of all chemical weapons).”

Participants said South Africa introduced language for the report’s section on the destruction deadlines; that section says that “issues in this regard should be dealt with faithfully in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention.” The United States and other countries rejected the initial proposal by arguing that all provisions of the treaty must be observed faithfully and that if specific language was added to the section on the destruction deadlines, it should be added to the other sections on the treaty’s implementation. As a result, the language recurs throughout the implementation section of the report.

In noting in his opening statement to the conference that the Russian and U.S. efforts “might be prolonged” beyond the treaty deadline of April 29, 2012, OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said, “Notwithstanding the complex technical and financial challenges posed by the destruction of their large stockpiles, both these countries have demonstrated over the years their firm resolve to abide by their solemn obligations under the Convention and to complete the destruction of their stockpiles at the earliest possible date.” Üzümcü’s predecessor, Rogelio Pfirter, had made similar statements.

In his statement, Üzümcü said Russia had destroyed about 49 percent of its declared stockpile and the United States 81 percent as of the end of October. He also noted that Russia had begun initial destruction activities at its Pochep facility Nov. 26.

The State Department official praised the Pochep startup as “another step toward destroying stockpiles” in Russia. However, he noted that, as with other chemical weapons destruction facilities, Russia was bringing Pochep online “in stages.” In addition to the plants that are not yet at full capacity, the Kizner plant, Russia’s seventh and final destruction facility, has yet to start up, and that facility is planned to be larger than the Shchuch’ye plant, he said.

The Shchuch’ye facility started initial operations in March 2009, but work on its second destruction building has not yet been completed.

Russia faces “some real challenges” in completing the destruction of its declared stockpile by the end of 2015, the State Department official said.

In a different debate over destruction, Iran accused the United Kingdom and the United States of violating the CWC when the two powers discovered and destroyed chemical weapons in Iraq after the March 2003 invasion of that country and did not notify the OPCW’s Technical Secretariat or Executive Council. The British and U.S. responses strongly denied the charge, saying that the circumstances surrounding that destruction were exceptional and not contemplated by the treaty.

The United States said the first recovered item was destroyed in May 2004 and that the U.S. government “informally apprised” the secretariat staff but “concluded that the situation in Iraq had not reached the appropriate level of security and stability to release detailed information regarding chemical weapons recovery prior to destruction.” The United States notified the secretariat in 2006, the U.S. response said. The British statement said its government’s actions “were in full accordance not only with our international obligations, but also with the fundamental object and purpose of the Convention—to rid the world of chemical weapons—taking account of the need to ensure the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq.”

Iran said that “further appropriate measures will be taken in the framework of the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

Expert Panel

At the meeting, Üzümcü announced he had established a panel of independent experts “to review the implementation of the Convention and to make recommendations for future OPCW activities.” The chairman of the panel is Rolf Ekéus of Sweden, whose nonproliferation posts included the chairmanship of the UN Special Commission on Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The panel of 14 experts, which includes senior current and former nonproliferation officials from a range of countries, held its first meeting Dec. 14-15. The group is scheduled to deliver its final report in June, Üzümcü said.

Delegates said they supported the initiative, which, they said, came from Üzümcü rather than the member states. The OPCW is “really at a transition point” after devoting most of its attention to chemical weapons destruction in the years since the CWC entered into force in 1997, the State Department official said. The panel should help the OPCW answer questions such as, “What security concerns do countries have, and how do we address them?” he said. One issue that increasingly has been raised over the past few years is chemical terrorism, he said.

Some observers have said the OPCW is undergoing a change in its mission, from destruction to nonproliferation. However, in the interview, Lomónaco said the debate over the identity of the organization is a “false debate” or, at best, “premature.” Casting the OPCW as having either one mission or the other oversimplifies the debate and ignores the complexities and “beauties” of the treaty and the organization, he said.

 

A debate over the 2011 budget for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention was a key part of the annual members’ conference, but the distribution of inspections, rather than the amount of money, was the key issue.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Daniel Horner